– Interview by On Tour Monthly –
Jessie Ware is a capricious young singer with a remarkable voice that fortunately was heard in the right place at the time. She was also blessed with friends who recognized her talent and were willing to go the extra mile to help shine a light on her remarkable singing gift.
The south London beauty never really dreamed she would ever be headlining tours as the main attraction. Her career literally snowballed as one situation led to another further taking Ware up the food chain. Last year, all those encounters finally led to the 27-year old releasing her debut, Devotion, to international acclaim. This past year her record, which is a mix of electronic pop combined with sophisticated soul, was nominated for a Mercury Prize – the annual music award judged by English music industry peers – for the best album released out of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Though she lost out to Alt-J’s Awesome Wave, the mere fact she had made the short-list with her very first recording was quite an accomplishment.
Currently taking a second crack at American audiences on a fall tour – Ware toured the States briefly at the beginning of 2013 – the singer took a short break from the whirlwind of activities surrounding her on tour to answer a few questions posed to her by OTM music editor David Huff.
ON TOUR MONTHLY: Thanks to the Internet, today’s recording artists live in a direct to consumer world. The critics are actually fans who listen, or discover your music, without any filters and success is tallied by how many hits your YouTube video receives. Is it more important for Jessie Ware to develop a hard core fan base that will help spread the word about you through social media sites rather than try and appeal to everyone?
Jessie Ware – This country is huge. I am finding out that your fan base can really change as you tour from state to state. For me, it’s more important at this stage of my career to cement a relationship with my fans. After every show, I make sure to take time to chat with them. It’s been overwhelming at times having so many people waiting after the shows to meet me. It’s also been really exciting and so touching. Since the first time I toured in the United States last January, I have felt a really solid gay fan base. It just seems to be getting stronger and stronger. So to answer your question, I do believe there is a certain amount of power of a wicked fan base spreading the word.
OTM: A lot of people will try to give you advice as to what songs will resonate with the public. On your debut album, how did you decide which songs would best represent who you are and was the process difficult?
My main concern when it came to selecting music to record was this. “Do I like the song?” After that, it was, “Do my mates like it and does my mum like it?” I thought that if we were all on the same page when it came to song selection, other people would be excited too. In this business, you never know when a song is going to click with the public. Selecting songs for an album is not an easy process. Looking back on what I went through on my debut album, it will greatly help me with album number two.
OTM: Your goal is to keep your music alive. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending a year on an album and then seeing it disappear in a month, never to be heard again. Do you feel more pressure today to constantly be on top of your game because you know that as quickly as people warm up to you they can turn just as fast?
Yeah, of course! I am a huge pessimist, so I am always thinking the worst! I am also very aware that if all this is going to go away from me tomorrow, then I may as well enjoy this time I have and appreciate everything that’s happening. I want my stage show and songs to improve. Just like anyone who has a job they love, you want to get better at it!
OTM: Great records cannot be described. They contain something that penetrates you in a way that stops time and you can’t focus on anything but the pure sound of the music and how the songs make you feel. Unfortunately, today it’s not about the album, it all revolves around the single you can download to your phone. Has it been difficult to adjust to that new reality and has it affected the music you record?
I was positive I wanted to make a cohesive and coherent album that made sense when it was played in its entirety. As I was new to this side of the business, singles didn’t seem as important to me when putting this record together. But I do know how important individual songs can be to release. There is a pressure to get those few ‘hits’ on your record, but I never want it to compromise the overall sound of the album itself. Personally, I don’t think it did on my debut.
OTM: We live in a singles world that demands YouTube attention. The main challenge today for an artist isn’t getting paid for the music you record for public consumption, it’s getting someone to listen, and almost no one can accomplish this goal unless you resort to antics, like Miley Cyrus did. In order for Jessie Ware to maintain her artistic credibility, has social media been the answer?
It has definitely helped. Blogs have been the best source for me to have my music spread around. That feedback definitely helped me go into places I had never played before, because it created a buzz about my music. I have also found it quite marvelous to have people singing my songs when they could have only heard them from a link from my Twitter, Facebook or SoundCloud accounts.
OTM: People care what you have to say. They are investing in you by paying their hard-earned money to see you perform in concert. How did that initially make you feel, and how have you finally come to terms with this adjustment from back-up singer to having the spotlight squarely on you?
At the beginning, before the album was out, I found myself apologizing loads to the crowd like, “Sorry you don’t know the songs.” I found it difficult when I first headlined shows to know how to hold the attention of an audience. Since the album was released, and I had something solid to tour behind, it has gotten easier and my show is so much better! I remember my album had been out for a week in the UK and I was playing a festival called Bestival on The Isle of Wight. I had a big, big turnout for my show and had people singing songs off the album back at me. It was an amazing and wonderful experience.
OTM: You could very easily have a career as a club diva with driving, pulsating singles and thrive for years on the music scene. Or you could have a sustained career like Sade where your music has substance and it means something to people who hear the songs. What do you do?
I want to do a bit of both. I would like to dip into the dance music as I love doing it. That’s where I started. I also want to develop a style with my album too where they develop a ‘Jessie Ware’ sound people will recognize the moment they hear the song. To answer your question, I guess I’m a bit greedy, I want it all.